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Is the Growing Shantytown Crisis in Medellin, Colombia, Able to deal with Climate Change Impacts? by City Tech Blogger Yessica Bustos

Despite the difficulties Colombia has faced from drug wars, the paramilitary, corrupt politics, and poverty in recent decades, it is a developing country always looking for alternatives to improve the lives of its people and environment. Adding to the difficulties the poor face in  Columbia is the high risk of climate change impacts. Many of the impoverished live in Colombia’s shantytowns, which exist everywhere. Shantytowns  are built on the outskirts of the main city. The problem with shantytowns is that they are built by the settlers themselves who are not skilled in building homes; as a result, issues arise with the construction and location of the homes. These homes are barely homes: they consist of cheap material like plywood, tin, and plastic and they sit on unstable mud. These conditions are unsafe for the community and for the ecosystem in Colombia. As settlers continue to build and move in, they are disturbing the ecosystem and the existing natural habitat around them. Since there are no regulations on how and where to build, these settlers continue to flood into the region. Most of these “shantytowns are built on hillsides, which also put them at risk from landslides, a phenomenon that has been exacerbated by the effects climate change and by forest loss” (Anderson). About 78% of the urban population live in shantytowns. Residents of these shantytowns have a hard time getting water to their area and have no effective form of sanitation or waste management, thus putting the ecosystem at larger risk.

Medellin, Colombia, the home of Pablo Escobar, is a region in Colombia well known for its association with violence, murder, and the drug cartel. But Medellin has left that legacy behind them and may be one of the most thriving cities in Colombia thanks to improved tourism and infrastructure. Although poverty continues to be an issue in Medellin and all over Colombia, Medellin has created a solution to help the impoverished in its community.
Medellin is heavily secluded from the main part of the city, making it hard to earn a decent living. So to connect the shantytowns to the main city, engineers built an above ground metro system, which was a multi-billion-dollar project. The above ground metro system made it easier to get around from the main city and down to the valley floor. In addition, nine years later, the city built cable cars to connect the poorer shantytowns on the highest hill to one another.  This transportation improvement gives the shantytown settlers more opportunities to grow; kids are given the opportunity to attend school and visit the library; and shantytown residents are also given the opportunity to access employment in the thriving city. Although residents still live in their shanty shelters, the metro system gives the poor a chance to improve upon what they have and eventually build better homes with a stronger infrastructure.

Researchers around the world understand Medellin’s methodology, but find it difficult to replicate because of political entanglements. Politicians find it hard to accommodate the poor and accommodate growth; they often try to find an easy solution rather than a meaningful solution. If a city is well run, economic growth is bound to follow. Helping these shanty settlers can be essential to a city’s success.

Medellin’s efforts to improve their city should be closely monitored worldwide, because this is an issue every nation will be possibly facing in the future. Our world is eventually going to move to an urban population. The projection for 2050 is that 70% of the world’s population is going to be living in a city. With many new arrivals living in shantytowns, about 60% will be living in slumps. Medellin’s solution may prove the key is to have sustainable cities.

Medellin has decided to make a change by investing heavily to upgrade the poorer communities on the hillsides- the shantytowns. These upgrades will strengthen the shantytowns to become more resilient to climate change and its negative impacts.

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